holy conferencing?

dateline: june 3-6, at various locations across north dallas. the north texas conference, the annual meeting of clergy and layfolk across the dallas area, convened. the first day, sunday, ended with a powerful service at the new cathedral of our conference, first church in richardson. our new bishop, alfred norris, who ordained me in houston in 2001, preached about the relationship between the tower of babel story and acts 2. no, he did not credit my post last week as his inspiration! i'll let it slide.

monday the entire conference convened at the plano centre for meetings. at the top of this year's agenda was the election of delegates to the general conference (g.c.), in ft. worth next april, and the jurisdictional conference (j.c.), in dallas next summer. for those who do not know, the g.c. is a gathering of 1000 united methodists from across the globe, which meets every four years to determine the direction of the church. it is the only body with the authority to speak for the church. the j.c.'s primary purpose is the election and assignment of bishops. a new bishop for north texas will be chosen in 2008. personally i think we could do without the jursidictional level-- the jurisdictions remind us of one of the worst parts of methodist history, where the church divided itself along geographic, and racial, lines.

we elected six each of clergy and lay delegates to g.c., then six additional lay and clergy delegates to j.c. (g.c. delegates automatically go to j.c.). oy, this talk is even boring me! i'll get to the point. obviously it's a great honor to go represent one's conference at these events, and lots of folk want to occupy a few spaces. that creates an interesting political environment. fully half of our time at conference this year was spent filling out scantron ballots. the conference even ran over nearly four hours because of elections.

i am very pleased with the delegations, especially on the lay side, where some good friends were elected to serve. it was surprising to me that many who were chosen in 2004 did not make it in 2008, including a mentor of mine. i don't understand the behind the scenes stuff enough to explain how this happened, and hey, to be honest i love change. i just wonder how respectful and courteous we are of one another-- of folk who think and believe differently than we do.

john wesley considered conferencing-- the interaction of Christians-- a means of grace. his convenant groups would often start with the question, "how is your soul?" bishop oden several years ago reminded us that "conference" in wesley's understanding is a verb, not a noun, something we do, not something we go to. i missed out on lots of holy conferencing this week. clergy buddies i looked forward to seeing were either invisible, scattered, or running back and forth to their chairs for the next ballot. i stopped one pastor i had not seen in a couple of years. after he remembered who i was and we chatted briefly about my new appointment, he urged me to vote for x and y, so we could make sure our delegation was inclusive of theological perspectives. look, i am all for including others, even those i would disagree with theologically, and if i could reproduce my 26 ballots for you it would reflect that truth. but is that what wesley had in mind about conferencing? were we more concerned with number of votes than the condition of our souls?

bishop robert hayes of the oklahoma conferences, my long-time friend and mentor, who will preach a revival in prosper january 27-28, preached a fantastic sermon tuesday night at the ordination service. he spoke of the relation between membership and privilege, telling those to be ordained, and us in the congregation, that service in the name of Christ is all about humility and gift. every day i try to remind myself what a joy and blessing it is to be a pastor, even those times that i feel like hanging up my robe for the last time and going to work as an usher at the ballpark in arlington! i am certain that everyone chosen to represent north texas at the conferences next year understands the responsibility. i do not doubt that at all. we have good people going for us. i guess my biggest concern is how much we understood that as we filled out our cards-- were we voting for some and against others? is it possible that voting can be a means of grace-- and is it possible that when others are not chosen for the wrong reason-- that grace is somehow withheld from us?

even after the amazing worship experiences of the week-- culminating with bishop hayes tuesday night-- i left annual conference overly tired and sort of discouraged. please do not confuse what i am saying as bitterness that i was not elected-- i didn't even vote for myself, and would have laughed outrageously if anyone else had. perhaps in 20 years i will feel i have something to contribute to the church on an international level, but no, not now. with all the business and the running back and forth for votes, i missed out on what i think is the real purpose of annual conference, for grace to be conferred on us as we reunite with friends and colleagues.

let the race for the 2012 delegation begin...


Unknown said…
Frank, send me your e-mail, and I can talk to you more directly and less publically.

BTW, The Wyoming Conference is actually NE Pennsylvania and Southern NY. It's named after the Wyoming Valley of the Susquehanna river, and I think the state is named for this valley.

I moved back north in Jan. 2005.
Great post, who was your mentor that went to G.C. in 2004?